As I hot-foot it through the terminal in a desperate attempt to catch my flight, I appeal to God to perform a Moses-style miracle and part the crowds – or delay my plane or stop time – anything, just this once.
Then, with a great deal of relief, I wake up.
For years now, I’ve had recurring dreams (though I prefer to call them nightmares) about packing and travelling. They involve me trying, and failing miserably, to catch a train or flight. Sometimes I get to the airport and realise I have just a solitary sock and a pair of pants in my luggage. Or worse still, I find myself at home with only three minutes to pack for a long trip.
Travelling, whether at home or abroad, is something many of us have the privilege of doing. Even so, it brings me out in a cold sweat. Before each journey, I still sit paralysed staring at an empty suitcase, and my full wardrobe, at a loss for where to start. I overthink and overplan. I spend an inordinate amount of time trying to anticipate every climate-related eventuality.
I make lists, then iron, fold, pack, unpack, reorganise, re-iron, and pack again. The process takes me hours, if not days. I can happily cycle through London’s manic streets carefree, or throw myself out of a plane at 10,000ft, but ask me to fill a holdall for a weekend getaway and I crumble.
I believe they call it ‘packaphobia’.
Now, I’m about to face the biggest packing challenge of my life: before the year is out, I’ll be moving to west Africa for 10 months. I have to clear my belongings out of my house, put them into storage (aka my parent’s house), and take just two suitcases worth of things away with me.
In the five and a half years I’ve lived in my current place, I’ve acquired and accumulated, and acquired some more. I’ve built an empire of tat. So as I begin the painful process of moving out, I’m starting to wonder just where all this stuff came from.
Every item I throw away or donate to charity comes with a fierce inner battle. Those old birthday cards and wedding invitations? Some call them ‘useless’, I call them ‘sentimental’. That’s probably why I still have my GCSE exercise books from 15 years ago.
If you’re anything like me (in which case, my sincere condolences), you’re the sort of person who finds things hidden away that you didn’t even know you had, and parting with them take a degree of willpower you simply do not possess.
All this makes me realise that for all my self-righteous ranting about the trappings of consumerism, perhaps I’m just as ‘trapped’ as everyone else. And maybe, just maybe, I find my identity and my security in what I own. But is this really how we’re meant to live?
Last month, a Credit Suisse report revealed that the richest 1 percent of the world’s population own 46 percent of global wealth. Meanwhile, two-thirds of adults own just 3 percent of global assets. We live in a world of extreme inequality of wealth. We hoard and then we cling on. And yet, as Paul points out: “But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it” (1 Timothy 6:6).
Jesus said that storing up treasures on earth would never bring fulfillment. He told the rich young ruler to “sell all your possessions, and give to the poor… Then come, follow me.” But the man “went away sad, because he had great wealth” (Matthew 19:22). I imagine I would have done the same.
The truth is, there’s something immensely liberating about letting go of our possessions. At least, that’s what artist Michael Landy said: in 2001 he spent a fortnight destroying all his worldly belongings – all 7,227 of them – as part of an art piece titled Breakdown. It was, he said, a life-changing (if not slightly traumatic) experience.
I’m not suggesting we burn all our stuff. But rather than just de-cluttering, how about we try to ‘de-own’ once in a while, and forego some rights to ownership? Could we do it? Could I do it?
Real freedom doesn’t come in being stuck in a vicious cycle of cheap tat: it comes in releasing our tight-fisted grip on our earthly possessions and looking out for the needs of others. It comes in realising that we don’t need half the things we own, but that everything we truly need is given to us freely and in plentiful supply: grace, love, joy, peace, acceptance.
It’s called the art of travelling light and letting go. It’s a work in progress.
(Photo via O.F.E. on Flickr)